Sunday, April 5, 2009

Going Out on a Limb

I know what the conventional wisdom says.

And I know North Carolina crushed Michigan State when they met a few months ago.

The Tar Heels have long been considered the favorites to be this season's champions.

But we're down to the championship game. It's been 30 years since Magic Johnson took the Spartans to what was, for many, an improbable title game victory over Larry Bird and Indiana State. And the 2009 championship game is being played in Detroit, less than 100 miles from the Michigan State campus.

Logic — or, perhaps, more significantly, statistics — suggests that North Carolina has the edge.

Each team has individual standouts. They just stand out in different things.
  • North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough is 13th in the country in free throw percentage, and

  • Ty Lawson is tied for 17th in three–pointer percentage.
On the other side, Michigan State's Raymar Morgan is 14th in field goal percentage.

But they both have top 20 national performers in at least one category. In assists, North Carolina's Lawson is tied for 10th in the nation. Michigan State's Kalin Lucas is tied for 16th.

And North Carolina seems to have a decisive edge in team statistics.
  • North Carolina led the nation in field goals per game (Michigan State is 95th).

  • The Tar Heels are second in points per game (Michigan State is 100th).

  • North Carolina is second in rebounds (Michigan State is 34th).

  • North Carolina is second in assists (Michigan State is 18th).

  • The Tar Heels are fourth in free throws per game (Michigan State is 57th).

  • North Carolina is 16th in blocks (Michigan State is not in the top 100).

  • North Carolina is 29th in steals (Michigan State isn't in the top 100).
Common sense tells me that North Carolina will win the game.

But I feel this is one of those moments when the underdog is going to deliver.

Like the U.S. hockey team against the Russians at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980.

Detroit — and the state of Michigan — have been knocked down a few times. Unemployment is well into double digits there now. The car industry is wobbling on the edge of a cliff.

The Spartans can give Michigan and Detroit the kind of psychological lift the 1980 U.S. hockey team gave a battered America.

I think this may be one of those moments that transcend the playing field. It will do you no good to analyze the numbers and apply logic to your prediction. This one will be played from the heart.

I predict Michigan State 79, North Carolina 77.


Kyle said...

You have to remember that MSU's stats were compiled in a very weak Big Ten this year, whereas UNC competed in the top-tiered ACC. But that is speaking only of stats. Intangibles can go a long way, but the 35 point drubbing the Tar Heels put on the Spartans earlier this year says volumes. Carolina by a comfortable 12.

David said...

That may be so, although I'm not sure what your point is about the stats. I've observed that North Carolina is rated ahead of Michigan State in every significant category. The fact that Michigan State played in a weaker conference only supports the statistical advantage that I've already acknowledged.

Both teams have played many games since they last met. Injured players have healed. Young players have matured.

And I've said that I'm going out on a limb in making this prediction, but sometimes the sensible, logical outcome is not what we get.

North Carolina may well prevail. But I'll stick with the underdog.

otin said...

Well, living in NC, it's like Christmas around here because the Tar Heels won!